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Sri Lanka

Grieving Sri Lankan Catholics prepare for Christmas

Some are still in desolation following the Easter Sunday attacks

ucanews reporter, Negombo

ucanews reporter, Negombo

Updated: December 20, 2019 07:10 AM GMT
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Grieving Sri Lankan Catholics prepare for Christmas

The usual peace in the village of Katuwapitiya was shattered last Easter and has not been restored. Banners featuring images of those killed in the barbaric bombings can still be seen on the wall of St. Sebastian church. (Photo by ucanews)

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Susantha’sface was pale and his tearful eyes widened as Christmas neared.

But Negombo City is full of thousands of people shopping from morning to night; there was nobody to find out if Susantha was even eating or drinking.

He spends most of the day at the cemetery in the village of Katuwapitiya. Because Susantha lost his two children in the Easter Sunday attacks.

He says both were excellent pupils. “I tried to teach my two children as best I could,” said Susantha, showing off photographs of them. “I drove my three-wheeler to earn enough to pay for their studies. I worked all day and night for them.”

Christmas is the first major Christian festival since the tragic blasts of April 21.

In the seaside fishing city of Negombo, also called “Little Rome” because of its churches and Catholic majority, Catholic are preparing to celebrate. The streets are adorned with Christmas lights and colorful decorations.

Susantha started hearing the sound of firecrackers at midnight from November 30. He knew they were a symbol of the upcoming festivities. But Susantha felt nothing but loneliness.

His friend Nilantha Fernando said they would not be celebrating Christmas this year.

Still gripped by grief

Banners featuring images of people being killed in a barbaric bombing can be seen on the wall of St. Sebastian church of Katuwapitiya.

The villagers still recall how their church exploded and how the grotesque events left them stunned and trembling. There was silence among us.

Some villagers still avoid meeting visitors. Some refuse to participate in night-time activities and those who can talk are tired of repeating their experiences.

They are still in fear and some victims have been trained to face the future with the help of counselors.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, has urged faithful to visit those grieving the loss of loved ones during Christmas and refrain from organizing the usual noisy gatherings and parties.

Cardinal Ranjith said the attacks had left an unbridgeable vacuum for those in grief, while there is nothing but pain for the survivors, some of whose lives have been shattered beyond repair.

Remember also, he said, the little children whose parents will never return to them.

He said that many of them do not know why they were targeted and who did this.

The cardinal's warning

On another sombre note, Cardinal Ranjith also called for additional security over Christmas.

“The government should ensure high security at midnight Masses and Masses on Christmas day,” Cardinal Ranjith told reporters on Dec.19.

The series of suicide attacks became the focal point of the presidential election, with candidates making national security their No 1 priority.

A group of nine suicide bombers affiliated with local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) blasted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 259 people

and injuring at least 500.

Newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, secured victory with 52.25 percent votes at the presidential election held on Nov. 16 to become the seventh executive president of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa met Cardinal Ranjith on Nov. 21 and vowed that an independent inquiry into the Easter bombing would be conducted and justice served for the victims.

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